This week is Colleges Week, dedicated to the amazing work our country’s colleges do day in day out for young people and adults every day. Supporting the #LoveOurColleges campaign is something I’ve been doing since my time as NUS President. As only the second President of the National Union of Students to come through further education rather than university, it’s personally an important commitment for me. I’m proud of where the campaign has gone and how much its achieved. Government funding to colleges has been reduced in real terms by 24% since 2010 and means that institutions are struggling to deliver the fantastic education that everyone deserves access to. Politicians and decision makers are beginning to listen because the campaign has successfully raised the profile of colleges and how transformational they are for students and communities.
I feel incredibly honoured to have represented millions of students and apprentices across the UK. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this if it wasn’t for my further education college in Lewisham. I left school with one GCSE and left home at 16. College gave me the opportunity and platform to be where I am today, more importantly I was able to break the cycle of deprivation and do something I never thought was within my reach.
Things have changed for people thinking about or entering a college since I started in FE. They’ve changed over my time representing these very students. And I’m not sure things are getting better. It’s a fact that the reduction in funding has stretched colleges resources and reform after reform to the system has led to uncertainty for staff and parents. This cannot continue. Others deserve the chance I had to reach their full potential, to understand and engage in the world around them as active citizens, while receiving a transformational education that can lead to successful careers.
I hope this week showcases just how vital colleges are for young people, adults and employers. They hold the key to tackling the most important issues of our time and ultimately embedding lifelong learning into society. The reduction in adult learning is saddening to see and the lack of opportunities to retrain later in life will mean too few courses for people changing careers. I don’t believe it is too late to change tact, the government is waking up to the fact colleges offer the variety of skills and provision in a unique way that cannot be replicated elsewhere.
That’s why I now, alongside my job at small and specialist college, Rose Bruford, I sit on the Independent Commission of the College of the Future as a Commissioner. We are asking what we want and need from our colleges in ten years’ time. The changing world of work, along with other changes in our society and economy, means that skills will matter more than ever. If we are to ensure that everyone in the future has the opportunity for the life changing experience that I had, then we must ensure that colleges are at the heart of meeting the challenges we face. I want us to raise the profile of what colleges can do and lead the conversation on what the college of the future will look like to support everyone reach their full potential.
Colleges are too important to so many communities to be neglected any further. FE saves lives. I should know, it saved mine.